A former assistant and an expert on false memories testified for Ghislaine Maxwell’s defense on Thursday as her legal team got its first opportunity to call witnesses to the stand.
The former assistant, Cimberly Espinosa, testified for just under two hours about the roughly six years she spent working for Maxwell at Jeffrey Epstein’s company in New York from 1996 to 2002. Her testimony mainly focused on her memories of “Jane,” one of the four women who testified Maxwell groomed her for sexual abuse when she was underage.
Jane appeared to be “probably 18” when she met her, Espinosa said, and Jane’s mother told employees that Jane was Epstein’s goddaughter. Espinosa testified that Epstein treated Jane nicely, as far as she could see.
Jane testified earlier in the trial Epstein sexually abused her – and that Maxwell at times joined in on the abuse – both in Palm Beach, Florida, and Manhattan when Jane was 14, 15 and 16 years old.
Espinosa also testified that Maxwell and Epstein were a “little flirty” and appeared to be in a romantic relationship. In the early 2000s, though, she believed they had stopped dating and were no longer traveling to and from the office together.
The assistant said she respected Maxwell, who treated her fairly and nicely, and she praised Epstein as generous. She said she’d never seen anything to suggest Maxwell or Epstein ever behaved inappropriately with underaged girls.
The assistant’s testimony came as the defense began to present its case in the sex trafficking conspiracy trial of Maxwell, Epstein’s close confidante and longtime associate. The defense’s case is expected to last just a few days.
Judge Alison Nathan said she expects closing arguments to take place Monday, with the case going to the jury afterward.
This would give the jury two full days to deliberate ahead of the Christmas holiday.
The prosecution rested its case last Friday after calling 24 witnesses across 10 days of testimony. Their case was highlighted by four women who said they were sexually abused by Epstein when they were under 18 and who said Maxwell facilitated and sometimes participated in that abuse.
Prosecutors introduced photos of Maxwell and Epstein embracing and smiling for the camera over the years, including several showing her massaging his foot. The defense objected to showing the jury these photos, but the prosecution insisted their close relationship was central to the case, and the judge agreed.
“Their relevance is self-apparent, given the contents of the photographs,” prosecutor Alison Moe said. “The relationship between Maxwell and Epstein is central to this case.”
Defense attorneys have argued Maxwell is being scapegoated for Epstein’s actions and have attacked the memories and motivations of the women who say they were abused.
Maxwell, 59, has pleaded not guilty to six federal charges: sex trafficking of minors, enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and three counts of conspiracy.
Epstein, who pleaded guilty in 2008 to state prostitution charges, was indicted on federal sex trafficking charges in July 2019 but died by suicide in prison a month later. Maxwell was arrested a year afterward.
Doctor explains science of memory
Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist and professor at the University of California Irvine, testified about false memories as part of the defense’s attempt to broadly undermine the truth of the accusers’ testimony. She testified Thursday that humans can be exposed to misinformation about an event after the fact and incorporate it into their memory, making it inaccurate.
“Even traumatic experiences can be subjected to post-event suggestion that can exaggerate, distort or change the memory,” Loftus said.
She said that external factors such as substance abuse, marijuana or otherwise have been found in studies to impair a person’s ability to create a memory at the time of an event.
She testified that false memories can be expressed with a high degree of confidence and emotion is not necessarily an indicator of credibility. “Emotion is no guarantee that you’re dealing with an authentic memory,” she said.
On cross-examination Thursday, she at times became a little flustered when questioned about her motives and the suggestion that she was profiting off criminal defendants. She turned her head and spoke directly to the jury when asked if her work and the media attention she received from testifying for famous and high-profile defendants raised her profile. She looked at the jury and said, “I wouldn’t put it that way.”
Loftus said she has only testified once for the prosecution side in the approximately 300 times she’s given expert testimony since the 1970s.
On cross-examination, prosecutor Lara Pomerantz asked Loftus about a book she wrote called “Witness for the Defense.”
Pomerantz read a brief excerpt from the book that said, “Should psychologists in a court of law act as an advocate for the defense or an impartial educator? My answer to that question, if I’m completely honest, is both.”